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Friday, February 1, 2013
Chris Hardwick: Comedian, bowling all-star

By Patrick Dorsey

Chris Hardwick
Don't laugh: Comedian Chris Hardwick, seen here at Chris Paul's celebrity tourney, is a sound bowler.
Chris Hardwick -- comedian, TV host, podcaster, the Nerdist himself -- quickly admits it: He's no sports fan.

At least not like his mom and dad.

“Both my parents are fanatical," Hardwick told Playbook by phone this week. "My mom calls into sports radio shows. … She knows everything about everything.

"It’s crazy how intense they are about it. And it just flew right by my head somehow. I was into video games and computers and chess club and comedy when I was growing up.”

Well, plus at least one more thing. Something sporty, too. Bowling. You see, Hardwick is happy to follow sports he also can play -- and, since his father, Billy Hardwick, has owned a bowling center for more than three decades … and just so happens to be a member of the Professional Bowlers Association Hall of Fame … Hardwick picked up the game as a kid. Became a star, too, appearing on TV talk shows before age 10, before letting those other things he mentioned take over his life and lead to where he is today (stand-up comic, host of AMC's "Talking Dead," among other TV ventures, plus the creator of the expansive Nerdist podcast network).

But now he's back on the lanes. And you can see him there, too -- right now, on YouTube, with the series "Chris Hardwick's All-Star Celebrity Bowling," but also on ESPN, at 4 p.m. ET Sunday, as a competitor (alongside pro Chris Barnes) in the fifth-annual Chris Paul PBA All-Stars Invitational.

We caught up with Hardwick to talk bowling, Web series, the PBA's new bowling league (the 41-year-old owns a team called, appropriately, the Silver Lake Atom Splitters) and more:


So first, talk about the Chris Paul tournament.

It was great. I was actually kind of nervous. I do this bowling show on YouTube, so I’m used to bowling in front of cameras, but I felt a tremendous amount of pressure -- No. 1, sort of being a team owner, and also being around genuinely the most athletic people in our country [including Paul, Blake Griffin, LaMarr Woodley, Terrell Owens and many others]. That’s a little intimidating. But if there was ever an opportunity for me to best them at something, this would be it. Any kind of physical anything -- this is my opportunity.

And how did it go?

Hardwick couldn't talk on the record about the results -- it was taped on Jan. 7 -- but …

I think the bowling was way more intense than what people would think of for a celebrity bowling tournament. It was fun, but it was super-competitive, and it was actually really, really good. If people are going to watch a bowling match, this would be a good one to watch.

Chris Hardwick
Hardwick, being carried by LaMarr Woodley of the Steelers, wasn't all business at Chris Paul's tournament.
I think people will be surprised at how much they enjoy it. We get that a lot on then YouTube channel, when people are like, ‘I cannot believe I just watched a whole day of bowling and actually enjoyed it [Hardwick and friends bowl against groups such as the cast of "Breaking Bad"]. Everyone’s been bowling and everyone has a bowling story, and it’s really communal. When you get a people together, and they’re all kind of screwing around and [trash]-talking each other -- but in a good way -- that’s how friends bowl.

Talk about your past as a bowler. I understand you had some success early.

I was a good bowler. I was a good kid bowler, and my dad was obviously in the Hall of Fame and stuff, so I bowled on TV talk shows when I was a kid. My high game when I was 11 was like 289. And 300s are a lot more common now than they used to be -- the equipment’s a lot easier, the lanes are a lot easier, the balls are so technologically advanced, that it’s not just like the old days when you were throwing a hard rubber or a plastic ball.

In fact, Hardwick wrote about that very thing -- technology and bowling -- for Wired.com

So, as the proprietor of Nerdist, would you say bowling can be nerdy?

It’s physics. Bowling is all physics and energy distribution. It’s f = ma. So it is actually one of the most science-y sports, because it literally is just a ball and a surface and objects to knock down.

Chris Hardwick
To Hardwick, bowling is the sweet science.
Still, it's a good guess bowling means more to you than science.

It’s funny. When I go into a bowling center and I smell the lane oil and hear the noise of the pin setters and [feel] the very specific environment of a bowling center, I get really, really relaxed.

I spent the first 13 years of my life in a bowling center, my parents met because of bowling, my mother’s father ran a couple of bowling centers in Florida, my dad was a pro, so … the bowling center was my nursery.

And because I was around at the right time with the video game revolution, my dad put an arcade in the bowling center -- and that’s where I developed the love of video games that I’ve had forever. And I used to play chess matches in the bar of the bowling center when the bar was closed during the day. And I used to go to the bowling center after school and watch MTV, and I ended up working for MTV. So many things get transferred back into the bowling center.

How did you get involved with the PBA and owning a team (alongside Paul, Owens, Kevin Hart and many others)?

They basically just asked me. They just said, "Are you interested in being involved?" And I said, "Absolutely."

I think for a lot of people, bowling is sort of a joke. But I love it, and it means a lot to me, so any chance to help promote it or celebrate it or not make the hackiest jokes -- "Bowlers are like plumbers and they wear the craziest shirts!" -- I’m way into.

So I'm guessing you won't be debuting a bunch of bowling material on the stand-up circuit.

The really irritating thing is I was never able to write a lot of stand-up about bowling, because it was so close to me that I couldn’t figure out what was funny. The stuff I know about bowling, you would have to know about bowling for it to be funny. … So I’ve never been able to write relatable stuff about it, and then [expletive] Jim Gaffigan writes 15 gorgeous minutes about bowling and I’m like [gosh-darn] it, it was all right there! … I don’t know if I would have anything better than that.

After this Sunday, you're also hosting The Streamy Awards (Feb. 17), the third-annual awards show for Web content. What does that mean, as a Web guy yourself?

I think they’re really important for what’s happening in media right now. What’s happening on the Internet is essentially what cable was 25 years ago. … People from entertainment are starting to realize, ‘Oh, I’ll have a ton of creative freedom, I can put stuff up immediately, I don’t suffer from the glacial pace that it normally takes to make a show if you’re doing it on television. I mean, I still love television, I work in television, but I don’t think television is perfect, and I think a lot of the shortcomings that television has, you don’t find with Web-based content.

So in other words, you're angling for a nomination for your bowling show.

I’m not angling for that, but if they did that would be great. But there’s a lot of really great content out there. … Web content is all about passion. Obviously, if I’m making a Web show, I’m not making a [lot] of money right off the bat. I’m doing it because I’m passionate about it. Which is good. It’s good to do stuff not for the money, because that’s where the best stuff comes from.